Black Friday tells us that Christmas is about buying things – lots of things. Our culture tells us it's about eating food – lots of food. As soon as Halloween is through, shops stock up on copious boxes of cards and goodies. Christmas trees and sparkly lights grace our streets, and we get that warm fuzzy feeling inside. Christmas is on its way.
But Jesus is nowhere to be seen. So I understand why Christians get hung up on putting Christ back into the festivities. It's a noble and righteous desire – it's his birthday after all. But does that really need to mean getting angry with people who wish us a 'merry xmas' or 'happy holidays'? And is hosting a brilliant carol service and inviting all your friends and family along the only way of having a Christ-centred Christmas? Surely not.
As Christians, Christ is in the every day – because he is in us – but there are ways we can use this special season to be more like him.
1. Invite the lonely
The widow, the orphan, the alcoholic, the prisoner, the prostitute, the tax collector. The outsider. That's who Jesus had dinner with. It certainly wasn't always comfortable. It probably would have been easier to go and hang with the Pharisees for a three-course feast. But, praise God, that's not where he chose to be.
In every town, church, workplace and neighbourhood there are people who are dreading Christmas. Because while everyone else appears to be having the best day ever, they're even more aware than ever that they're alone. They're outside. They're excluded.
I think if his birthday had been such a big deal while he was around, Jesus would have invited these people to his party. It would have been like the wedding feast in Matthew 22, where "the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good" (22:10). It would have been mayhem – but also kind of fun.
If you can squeeze one or two more people round the table this Christmas, invite the stranger in. Feed the hungry and give the thirsty something to drink. Be willing to make your Christmas a little less comfortable to be Christ to someone who needs hope.
2. Make peace with someone
Christmas is a celebration of the Prince of Peace coming into the world, yet how easily we hold grudges. This Christmas, why not make peace with someone who you're holding a grudge against? Offer a Christlike hand of forgiveness. Buy them a present – knowing you're definitely not getting one in return. Invite them for mulled wine and minced pies. Live out the perfect peace we're celebrating this season.
3. Shop ethically (and don't buy too much)
Christmas has become synonymous with gift-giving. And in a way, that's nice. It fits in with the Christmas story, with the wise men giving gifts to the greatest gift any of us will ever receive. And we all like to receive a present every now and again. But, if we're honest, it's all got a bit out of hand. And we don't often think about the impact of our consumerism.
So this Christmas, why not commit to shopping ethically? To buying gifts that don't come stitched together with slavery?
Clothing brands like Krochet Kids and People Tree are driven by their ethics not by profits. Gift shops like Heaven's Attic give a chunk of their profits to charity. Online retailers like Global Seesaw provide a way for UK customers to buy items that have been made by women who have escaped prostitution. A quick Google search will open a world of ethical shopping options. If you're buying someone chocolate, choose to buy fairtrade. It takes time, but it is possible to make shopping choices that recognise the value of humanity and of our world.
Another option is to buy your favourite people those goats in Niger or polio drops for 100 children they've always wanted. Charities like Oxfam and UNICEF offer a whole range of gifts that can change the lives of some of the world's poorest people. Well worth considering.
4. Be grateful
For many of us, Christmas isn't restful. It's jam-packed with last-minute shopping, pressing deadlines at work, children demanding gifts that are sold out in every Argos for 50 miles... But strip away the tree, the lights, the gifts, the stress, and we have so much to be thankful for. Even if everything in our lives seems to be going wrong, Christ still came for us.
Most of us will have lots of things to be thankful for this Christmas. Take time to notice them, to enjoy them, and to show your gratitude to the people who make your life what it is. Most of all, be grateful to God, and let that thankfulness flow out into your interactions with others this Christmas. When we take time to realise how much we have we're much more likely to give some of it away.
5. Make a resolution to live out Christ's coming every day this coming year
"Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord" (Luke 2:11).
Jesus came into the world to save us, to redeem us, to bring us life. What would it look like if we didn't just fight to put Christ back into Christmas, but strived this coming year to put him into our everyday lives? To be the good news he brought into the world this New Year?
What could you do differently? Which friend of yours who does not yet know Jesus would really value your selfless friendship? What money do you have that you could give away to someone else in need? What situations could really use your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self control?
How about using this Christmas as a springboard to intentionally live out Christ every day in 2017?
None of these things are easy. They may well make Christmas shopping more expensive and Christmas day more awkward. They will mean putting ourselves out there and risking rejection and embarrassment. But they might also give us a glimpse into what it's like for God to welcome us at his table – with all our flaws, quirks and failures.